'A boy in class could be a danger' - girls warned of sex abuse
The number of young people carrying out sex attacks is on the rise in Ireland, legal experts have said.
Recent studies show a growing trend of younger people committing sexual offences, which Rape Crisis Network Ireland legal director Caroline Counihan has described as "concerning".
Last year, the number of defilement offences increased by 20pc.
"It is quite a big rise in one year," Ms Counihan said.
"I think it means there are more people reporting the crime and it makes me think there is more sexual activity being conducted against children, which is worrying."
She said rape crisis centres have reported an increase in the number of cases of sexual violence.
"I had one centre which had very few reporting for a number of years and in the last six months the number has doubled," she added.
"There's of course heightened awareness with the Me Too movement.
"Gardaí are saying they have also seen a dramatic spike in sexual assault reports in DPSU (Divisional Protective Services Units) areas."
The specialised units were set up by gardaí to investigate sexual abuse and domestic violence cases.
The director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland said that almost 40pc of children who were victims of sexual violence were abused by another child.
Dr Cliona Saidlear said young girls need to be made aware that young boys who sit with them in the classroom can also be a danger.
The Department of Education is carrying out a review of sex education and how consent is taught to children.
"Sex education around sexual violence is really about tools to help people around inappropriate behaviour and recognising behaviour in themselves," said Dr Saidlear.
"It has shifted that focus from stranger danger and that dirty-old-man kind of image we have.
"We really need to say that young boys can also be a danger to young girls, it isn't all just fun."
Dr Saidlear said, however, that sexual violence treatment "incredibly underfunded".
"One of the critical issues is around staff training and retention," she added.
"The whole area around sexual violence is so incredibly underfunded, given the scale of the issue. It will be a long time before it will be enough."